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Build a Aeolipile


You need

  • A length of 3mm copper tubing. You can get it from an art shop
  • An old tin of Brasso or Silvo or similar, the one with a metal screw top.
  • Plank
  • Roller skate bearing
  • Bolt and nut to fit through bearing
  • Solder and soldering iron.


Cut two lengths of about 10 cm of the copper tube.
Bend the ends in a ninety degree curve and crimp the tips a little
Drill two hole on opposite sides of the tin as near as possible from the top of the tin. The size of the holes must match the diameter of the copper tubing
Solder the two tubes into the holes. If you do not have a soldering iron epoxy glue or liquid steel will also do the trick.

Drill a hole in the plank to make a snug fit for your roller skate bearing.

Drill a hole in the screw cap and fit the bolt through the hole and tighten with a nut.
Seal the bolt with epoxy glue from the inside.
Slide the bolt through the bearing and bolt at the top. Make sure the tin can rotate freely when it hangs from the bearing.

The Experiment

Fill the tin about a quarter full of water, tighten the screw lid and secure the plank so that the tin is suspended freely in the air.

Heat the water in the tin with a gas flame.

What’s happening

When the water start to boil steam will jet from the two copper tube nozzles and your aeolipile steam turbine will start spinning rapidly.

The Science

In the first century AD Hero, an inventor from the city of Alexandria in Egypt, invented the first steam turbine engine. He called it the Aeolipile. Or Spinning Wind. His design was similar to your design .
As the water boils the steam exerts pressure inside the tin. The pressure is released through the twin opposing nozzles and, like a jet engine, it spins the tin. In principle this is exactly how the huge power stations that produce our electricity works.

Prof. Pink's Notes

Make sure that the two tubes are not blocked especially after you haven’t done the experiment for a few weeks when rust sets in. Try to get the bolt through the screw on top as close as possible to dead centre to ensure a balanced spin.

Be careful. You are dealing with hot water and hot steam and an open flame.